In the wake of the recent United States election, many students at the University of Saskatchewan are concerned about the rise of Islamophobia and intolerance toward visible minorities. In an effort to build understanding, St. Thomas More College and the Islamic Association of Saskatchewan held their first public event.
The panel, titled “Muslim and Catholic Women in Conversation: People of Faith Asking and Answering Questions,” took place on Nov. 22 at STM. The panel featured three Muslim women and three Catholic women who each gave a short presentation about what it is like to be a woman of faith in Saskatoon, followed a question period.
Sarah Bardouh, first-year kinesiology student and one of the three Muslim women on the panel, describes the atmosphere of the event.
“It was very welcoming. I felt like everyone was just happy to be there and to share their ideas and … it was easy to talk to everyone and just get the ideas out there and no one was offended by anything,” Bardouh said.
The event provides a connection between two significant student demographics at the U of S. While STM is home to many Catholic students, the U of S campus also features two Muslim student groups, the Ahmadiyya Muslim Students’ Association and the Muslim Students’ Association.
According to Christopher Hrynkow, STM professor and co-organizer of the panel along with Hanan Elbardouh of the IAS, the event arose from a continued dialogue between the two institutions, which have met twice a term for two years to share a meal and to discuss a text or digital lecture.
Bardouh believes that events like this are important because they represent the lived experience of real women.
“I want people to be educated,” Bardouh said. “When some people hear things from the media and it’s not a primary source, they don’t know how it feels like to live the life of a Muslim or Catholic woman, and they make up their own story or own side of what they think the religion is without actually experiencing it.”
Desirée Steele, second-year law student and one of the Catholic panelists, was excited to take part in the panel because it provided an opportunity to learn.
“I see it as an opportunity to build understanding and I think that, just on a most basic level as people living in a pluralistic and diverse society, … we have an obligation to extend ourselves to try to understand each other,” Steele said.
Bardouh explains that many of the questions asked of the panelists focused on the hijab, a head covering and a religious practice that many Muslim women observe. In her elementary school, Bardouh was the first student to wear hijab, a decision she made as a statement of selfhood and pride in her religious background.
“I didn’t feel like I fit in because [other students] didn’t know why I covered my hair and I didn’t really know how to explain it to them … As I grew older, I realized that it’s not only … a way to identify as a Muslim person, but it’s also [a way] to connect to my God. I don’t have to wear it or not wear it to impress people with my hair or fit in. I felt like wearing it was a way to express myself in saying that, ‘Yes, I’m a Muslim and I don’t have to hide it.’”
Although following the event, Steele feels hope for the future of religion, she recognizes that there is still a lot of work to be done.
“Speaking specifically from a perspective of faith, I think so many of the world conflicts today have some sort of faith background wrapped up in them and, as much as all the world religions preach peace, I can only assume that there are incredibly grave misconceptions that are at the root of these conflicts … The more that we as individuals can come to an understanding of … what does actually draw us together, I think the more we can be able to understand and hopefully fight those battles when they come to our doorstep.”
Jessica Klaassen-Wright / News Editor
Graphic: Jeremy Britz / Photo Editor